ESPN COLLEGE GAME DAY GAME OF THE WEEK
Saturday, Feb 21, 2009, 8:00 PM CST
Frank Erwin Center * Austin, TX
Radio: 98.1 FM / 1300 AM (Austin)
Game Day Show: 10-11 a.m. ESPN
Las Vegas Line: Texas -1
KenPom Data Prediction: Texas, 73-72
Opponent Blog: Crimson & Cream Machine
|Overall Record||25-1||17-8||Offensive Efficiency (Rank)||119.1 (4)||110.3 (50)|
||Defensive Efficiency (Rank)||93.4 (49)||90.6 (28)|
||Strength of Schedule Rank||#70||#25|
|Away / Neutral Record||6-1 / 4-0
||4-4 / 3-2||Quality Wins (KenPom Top 50)
at Kansas St
at Okla St
|Record Last 5 and 10 Games||5-0 / 10-0
||2-3 / 5-5||Losses||
Stakes and Keys to the Game after the jump.
Start with what Gene Hackman says here...
...and then think of exactly the opposite of that, and you're pretty much there: Rather than block out the crowd, Texas should be actively feeding off of it. God willing, Rick Barnes' squad will think nothing about the recent tailspin that got them here. And above all else, it matters not a bit whether the Longhorns play well in any aspect of the game, so long as they win.
(Related: Thursday's Texas Basketball Report.)
KEYS TO THE GAME
1. Make Griffin do it all himself. Because the excellent Blake Griffin is the most difficult offensive Sooner to handle, opposing coaches have tended to throw waves of bodies at the All-American in an effort to slow him down. For several reasons, I'm convinced that's the wrong strategy. First, Griffin is quick and polished enough that he'll at times be able to make the offensive move he wants before the help defense can get there. Second, he doesn't mind extra bodies headed his way and is a very competent distributor away from oncoming trouble. And finally, Griffin's going to score at least 15-20 points no matter how you defend him. What matters is whether Griffin's having to try to do all the offensive work himself, or if the Sooners' scoring unit is clicking as a team affair.
I'd be interested to see Barnes open the game manning Griffin straight up with Connor Atchley/Gary Johnson, instructing them to try their best to defend him honestly and avoid foul trouble, while committing under-the-rim help on Griffin only sparingly. See how things play out the first ten minutes and then re-evaluate. Ideally, by playing Griffin straight up, Texas will limit what his teammates are able to offer, force Griffin to shoulder the bulk of the offensive load and, by not sending double teams, send four to the glass to take away OU's solid offensive rebounding.
2. Keep Willie Warren in check.. Painful though it is to say, the best kept secret in college basketball is Oklahoma's Willie Warren. The 6-4 freshman can leap out of the gym, has a very smooth stroke, excellent handles, and NBA-level on-court instincts. He's terribly difficult to defend because he'll take anyone a half step too slow to town on the perimeter, or get to the rim (and foul line) if defended by anyone too small. Warren is the primary reason why I don't like the idea of doubling Griffin: its effectiveness is lost when a player of Warren's caliber is also on the floor.
What to do? One option is to see how Justin Mason does with Warren, but as much as I like Mason for all his contributions, he's not the defensive stopper in the same mold as was, say, Royal Ivey. Mason is strong and reasonably quick, but for some reason he doesn't change directions very well. Another option is to put the longer Damion James on Warren, with Barnes telling Damion to go earn himself some NBA dollars with a defensive performance to remember. That's perhaps plausible (Warren's that good and important), but it's risky and potentially wasteful -- if DaMo either picks up some cheap fouls on the quicker Warren, or if in dealing with Warren all over the place he's not available to clean up rebounds. I just don't see it happening.
Instead, I think this is an assignment with WARD, V. painted all over it. He definitely gives up a couple inches and fifteen pounds to Warren, but Ward is like one of those MMA fighters -- as pound-for-pound strong and athletic as they come. More than that, he's absolutely fearless in that way you can't teach a kid. He doesn't mind a physical game/lots of contact, he'll gladly play perimeter D or mix it up in the paint, and he's a full-fledged gamer who -- it's been obvious all season -- seeks out challenges. I want to see him take on this one.
3. Make 'em play 94 feet. I'm not going to waste any more time repeating myself about how Texas should be looking for points in transition. It's not just that we're lousy in the halfcourt for too many long stretches, it's that we have the a terrific set of personnel for it. So there's that. Again.
But especailly tonight at the Drum against the Sooners, Texas needs to make Oklahoma run up and down all 94 feet over and over and over. Oklahoma's not a deep team, and they're not particularly interested in playing a track meet if they can avoid it. I'm sure they wouldn't mind, however, playing 3- or 4-on-5 defense against our halfcourt sets, in which they decide with impunity not to bother guarding Mason/Balbay/Ward's jumpshot. Push the ball, Rick. If for no other reason than to wear down Blake Griffin a bit.
4. Play Strong, and Finish the easy stuff. A game preview shouldn't be allowed to include something finishing easy stuff -- it should be assumed important. But the amount that this Texas team has missed free throws, lay ups, and clean inside looks near the rim has been especially problematic. We've lamented a number of close losses on the season, several of which probably go the other way if Texas is something better than dysfunctional at finishing shots that it should.
So here we are, and yes, it's a key to the game. The Sooners are precisely the kind of strong and physical inside team that has given the Longhorns trouble this year. Looking back, I'm not surprised Texas' two best wins of the season were against guard-oriented UCLA and Villanova. To win Saturday, this Texas team needs (1) Pittman to produce 15-20 good minutes without foul issues that force him to the bench for long stretches, and (2) an elevation in play from the likes of James, Johnson, and Atchley around the rim (be it grabbing a board in traffic or finishing a solid look in the paint). (Of course, it would also be nice for the team if Atchley stroke few jumpers at his career rate.)
And then there's free throws. Beyond the obvious need for Texas to make their attempts at a good clip, this team needs to reverse drastically the dominant free throw advantage that OU enjoyed over Texas in the first meeting. This gets back to playing strong -- not merely being unbothered by the physical Sooners, but taking it to them. It's a home game, with a home crowd, in a must-win situation, for a team that desperately needs a big win. If it's not visibly obvious that Texas comes out playing with a fighter's mentality, it's big trouble. For the game and the season. If they do, though, there are transition points to be had, Sooners to tire, and foul whistles ready to be blown.